Six Essential Tips for Planning an RV Trip Itinerary
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We jumped into RV travel without any previous camping or RVing experience. Purchasing a new 25-foot motorcoach, we launched trip after trip to justify the purchase. In the first two years, we explored the east coast from Maine to Key West and all points in between. A lot of travel for part-time RVers! A few friends just starting out with their new RVs asked how we plan our RV road trips. We thought about it and figured it would make a great blog post! So, here is a quick rundown of how we plan our trips and a few options for you to try.
Choose a Road Trip Theme or RV Destination
For us, road trip planning typically starts with either a theme like, "beaches along the east coast" or with a particular destination we want to visit like, "Acadia National Park" or "Key West". Once we have a theme or a destination in mind, we research what there is to see and do along the way. This information becomes the basis for our route planning. The amount of time we can be on the road is also an important consideration at this point. As we plan the route we have to keep in mind how much time we have available and balance that with how much we want to see and do. If you have only two weeks, then you will need to limit your travel and activities to those two weeks. That said, leave a little room for serendipity. You may be surprised by a hidden gem to explore or want to stay a little longer in a lovely place. Timing is also affected by the "2-2-2 Rule".
The 2-2-2 Rule for RVing
A good friend and long-time RVer gave us a simple rule for making RV trips more fun and less exhausting. He said, "Keep in mind the 2-2-2 rule. Stop every two hours to stretch your legs. Don't travel more than 200 miles per day. And, finally, once you arrive at a destination, stay there a minimum of two days." We thought his advice was bit conservative. Since he was pulling a huge 5th wheel rig, it made sense, but we're driving a small unit, a 25' Leisure Travel Van. It's easy to drive and handles like a car so surely we could expand the 2-2-2 rule and go farther! We planned our first trip ignoring the 2-2-2 rule, and soon discovered the wisdom of our friend's advice.
Stopping every two hours not only keeps us from feeling fatigued, but allows us time to enjoy places along the way. We have lunch or coffee in small towns, we walk the docks at coastal harbors, or check out visitors centers for information.
The two-hundred-mile limit seemed restrictive. It would take forever to get anywhere! But, it helped to slow down our hectic pace carried over from our careers. By driving just 200 miles, we made more stops and explored many more places than we might have otherwise.
That brings us to the minimum "two-nights in each destination" rule. We sometimes break this rule if we're anxious to get to a destination but it sets up a hectic pace for the trip. We found that the first day we arrive in a place is spent setting up camp, making dinner, and taking a walk or a hike around the campground. It's only by staying at least one more night that we have time to really get out an explore the area. Otherwise, we're packing up and heading out early the next morning. A few days in a row of that schedule is exhausting.
The 2-2-2 Rule will help define the timing of the trip as well as where you will stop for breaks and for the night. Now, to map it out!
Mapping the Route for an RV
Studying the map allows us to identify several routes to our destination. We research each route for places we'd like to visit or explore, and then find campgrounds at 200-mile intervals. We plan the actual route with this information in mind. Our next task is to decide how much time we want to spend at each stop. Sometimes a place we want to visit works as a lunch stop or a driving break. Sometimes we can incorporate our campground with a place we want to visit. And sometimes we wait and see how the day goes before making any hard and fast plans. We always give ourselves plenty of time between overnight stops for exploring new areas, for possible weather or traffic delays, or just to enjoy a slower driving pace.
Once we choose the route, we either print it out as a Google map or highlight the route on a road atlas. I know, you're thinking, "Why not just use the GPS in the vehicle or on your mobile phone?" GPS is a wonderful aid to navigation. But, there have been so many times that we didn't have cell service or the route the GPS wants to take is not correct or is blocked for some reason. Having the physical map available is pretty handy. They are an inexpensive and easily operated alternative to GPS! A route and map in hand will provide enough information to make reservations for overnight stops.
Should we make campground reservations?
Camping reservations are a much-debated topic of RV travel. From our experience there are a couple of factors to consider: First, if you're planning to arrive at a campground on a Thursday through Sunday, you need reservations. Second, if you're planning on a campground around a holiday or a festival, you need reservations. Third, if the campground or the area is very popular or it is "high" season, you need reservations. We have found campground availability in most areas is pretty good for Sunday night through Wednesday night (taking into consideration the preceding caveats). Even so, We make campground reservations for most of our trips. Occasionally, we have made trips without reservations and found last-minute cancellations in even the most popular campgrounds but, for the most part, we like to know where we're sleeping before we get tired!
State Parks, Army Corps of Engineers sites, and county parks are very affordable as are National Parks and Lands. There is a good book by Don Wright titled, "Free and Low-Cost Campgrounds" to help with finding inexpensive campgrounds. You may want to keep a copy in your RV in case you need to find an overnight on the fly. Also, there are some farms and vineyards that will allow overnight parking. You can find more information about them on Harvest Hosts (There is a membership cost for Harvest Host). Make sure to follow the host's requests on reservations and plan on contributing in some way for their kindness.
As far as parking lot overnights are concerned, they just do not afford us the level of comfort or safety that we have at a campground. We didn't purchase the RV to stay in parking lots and consider the strategy as an absolute last option. That said, we have stayed in a parking lot during a hurricane evacuation. It was just fine, but we had to run the generator at intervals for air conditioning, could not put out the slide, and had to carefully monitor our tank levels for water and waste.
It's not an option I would typically choose but if the weather has delayed your trip or you just have to stop for the night, there are a few things to remember when choosing a parking lot: Check with the management to make sure you are allowed to park overnight and where they prefer you to park. Also, do a quick search to see if other RVers have reviewed that area for safety. If you choose to stay, make sure you patronize the store by purchasing groceries or products. Some communities do not allow for overnight parking and if that's the case and you need to stop overnight, ask the local police or sheriff's department for suggestions.
Document Your Road Trip
Keep a travel journal about where you have been and what you have seen and done. Evaluate your routes and itineraries for making plans to return to some places and reminders to find alternatives for less desirable places. That includes the campgrounds you choose. Which would you return to? That, in itself, is a valuable tool for future planning! Make sure to include lots of photos. If you are a camera buff, this will be natural. For the rest of us, the best camera is the one in your pocket - your cell phone! Take more photos than you think you need and upload them to a cloud service like Dropbox or iCloud. You can edit and sort them out when you get home. Photos will help you remember more vividly the experiences that will become lasting memories.
RV Travel Serendipity
Travel is not about getting from point A to point B in the shortest time. Don't get so focused on "getting there" that you forget to enjoy the adventure of it all. Travel shatters our preconceptions about places, people, and activities. A simple RV trip can expand your perspective on life. Take advantage of that and learn all you can from your travels. Let the itinerary unfold as each unplanned opportunity arises. You may not finish your planned itinerary, but you will surely have a great story to tell.
Summary: Tips for Planning the Itinerary for Your RV Trip
1. Choose a trip theme or destination
2. Abide by the 2-2-2 Rule when planning
3. Map your route and print it out
4. Make campground reservations, especially on weekends, holidays, and high season
5. Document your trip for future planning and for lasting memories.
6. Have fun and enjoy the serendipity of travel!